By Antonio P. Contreras | The Manila Times
IT behooves us to ask if in the entire history of our Republic, and in the many cases of successful election protests, there was ever one person sent to jail or penalized for committing election fraud. It would be interesting to know if there had been cases of politicians who were proven to have benefited from cheating, and were eventually unseated and taken to court and consequently convicted. It is important to ask if the Comelec, the three electoral tribunals, and the local courts have made recommendations to file criminal charges against these unseated candidates.
Right now, it seems that there is none. All that the wrongly proclaimed politicians get is a boot. They are not even fined, or disqualified to hold any public office, or to run in succeeding elections.
It seems that the election laws in our country have rested on the feeling that the Republic is served best by simply seating the rightful winner. It seems to accept that the removal from office of the beneficiary of the fraud is punishment enough. We seem to have conceded that justice is still served, even if it means the rightful winners will end up serving their offices, in some cases, just weeks before the end of their terms.
We simply gloss over the fact that while people who benefited from cheating may be presumed ignorant and clueless about the fraud committed on their behalf, election fraud is for all intents and purposes a conspiracy against the Republic. While ignorance and cluelessness are valid defenses, anyone who benefits from the conspiracy must be charged as a co-conspirator at the very least. After all, it is simply straining the limits of credulity to even believe that politicians are totally clueless about the cheating operations being made on their behalf.
One politician who is suspected of being a beneficiary of cheating was even reported to have told a friend who dissuaded her from running because she would not win, that everything had been taken care of months before the election. The same politician was also reported to have insisted as part of her deal that the powers-that-be would ensure that arrangements should also be made for her handpicked successor to her local position to prevail.
A careful analysis of our election laws, particularly the process of filing an election protest, would lead one to realize that it is stacked against the victim of the fraud. We do not have automatic recounts, and the cost of the protest is charged to the protestant. Aside from the enormous amount that one has to spend in order to initiate the process, the mechanism for settling election protests appears to be so outdated. We have already automated our election system, and yet the system of processing protests has not changed. There is still the view that a mere recounting of ballots will determine the correct will of the people, and that if ballots are not readable, that their captured images could be a reliable basis for determining the real intent of the voters. There is no decent and honest appreciation of the fact that fraud has also become automated, and that the forensics would need to be upgraded, and the logic of the process must be recalibrated to go beyond physical ballots, and go deep into the electronic mind of the automated election system. Anomalous data trends that defy election science, like excessive levels of undervotes, or anomalous straight lines representing otherwise random votes, must be considered as valid indicators of fraud, and not just the paper ballots. In the age of photoshopping and digital manipulation of images, the process must now take into account the fact that ballot images are not necessarily faithful reproductions of the will and intent of the voters.
The resolution of election protests cannot just be based on the actual physical recount of ballots. After all, those who sell their services by specializing in election fraud have definitely evolved faster compared to the election laws that deal with the resolution of protests. These election fraud service providers would have definitely identified all the gaps and loopholes in the automated election law, and they would have perfected the scheme of altering the contents of the ballot boxes, including not only the physical ballots but also the election returns, to match what they would have manipulated in the electronic tallies.
Pre-shaded ballots can be used to match the manipulated counts either prior to the counting during the elections, or be used after the fact by forcibly replacing the ballots with the fake ones when it is already in storage. And to assure that the votes will tally or will be favorable to the cheating candidate in the event of a recount where pre-shaded ballots will be physically examined, the percentage threshold can be set lower, perhaps to 20 percent or 25 percent, one that would not be known to voters and non-subscribers of the services of election fraud service providers, who would then naturally shade ballots fully.
If this fails, or if it is not feasible to use pre-shaded ballots, then the ballots could then just be damaged on purpose, by drenching them with water or chemicals so that they are no longer readable and the process will now just resort to using the scanned images of the ballots which can easily be electronically altered.
The audacity of these election fraud service providers lies in the fact that they know that they can get away with their evil deeds. The electoral tribunals and the courts would keep on focusing on recounting the physical ballots, because doing otherwise would mean admitting that there was a failure in the electoral process. Ruling that computer programs are tampered, that massive pre-shading of ballots occurred replacing actual voting, as revealed by fictitious voters affixing signatures that do not match those in the roster of registered voters, and appreciating unscientific data trends as proof of fraud, will not only force these conservative institutions to acquire the ethos that comes with the advanced nature of the election technology. This will also force them to call out the elephant in the room and rule that the fraud has now widened its reach to even include other contested positions that are not the subject of the protest. It can threaten the entire legitimacy of government.
Laws need to be crafted to synchronize election technology and the process for contesting election results. But it appears that Congress has more time focusing on child offenders, than on updating our election laws.
In the end, we are now all held hostage by a broken electoral system, one that nevertheless worked for those who availed of election fraud service providers, and those who may have indirectly benefited from them. It is also the same broken electoral system that will most likely work for those who will once again avail of the services of these fraud service providers in the coming mid-term elections.
And the President, who is probably the only person who can take the lead in making noise to rattle the system, has yet to make his move. And we wonder if he ever will.